In March, the Poynter Institute and its MediaWise Voter Project brought together 11 college students who were linked by a common thread: a nonpartisan commitment to voter education and media literacy.
They spent a weekend undergoing immersive training from the MediaWise team, Poynter’s groundbreaking and rapidly expanding program that teaches people how to tell fact from fiction online. The goal was for the students to take their new fact-checking knowledge back to their campuses and share it with their peers before the 2020 election.
Like almost all plans in the spring of 2020, theirs changed. Instead, despite school shutdowns and technological challenges, the newly minted MediaWise Voter Project’s Campus Correspondents are now offering virtual training to classrooms full of first-time voters across America.
“The original goal was for our students to teach their peers how to tell online fact from fiction at 11 campuses across America,” said program manager Barbara Allen. “COVID-19 changed that.”
Like so many other college students across the country, the MVPCCs moved to online teaching — and saw an opportunity to expand, as well.
“We were all virtually meeting one day and realized, ‘Hey, this really opens up the possibilities for us to teach anywhere, not just on our own campuses,” said Hanlyn Tyler, a senior at the University of North Texas.
The students created a sign-up form with a calendar so that anyone could request training for their class or organization of first-time voters.
Since then, the students have trained peers in classrooms at Michigan State University, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, and first-time voters from New York to California. Not only that, they’ve created a suite of social media content across Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.
@mvpuniversityMeet the Team🌟We’re working together to encourage ##medialiteracy in YOU. ##fyp ##mvp2020 ##fullhouse♬ original sound – theskorys
Now, anyone who’s willing to open a Zoom window and who teaches first-time voters can request a virtual session with a Campus Correspondent. Our students are prepared with succinct and engaging lessons for college-aged students to arm them with the knowledge they need to tell fact from fiction online — just in time for the 2020 election.
“I’ve already absorbed a lot on how to build a community at Michigan State around fact-checking before sharing information online,” said junior Evan Jones. “This position helped me escape my comfort zone to become more active in helping students handle the constant overwhelming flow of social media posts, something I struggle with every day.”
The students come from campuses big and small, public and private, all across the country. “Being a part of the MediaWise Voter Project has been an incredible experience so far,” said North Carolina sophomore Sonia Rao. “I’ve learned so much about media literacy, and it’s been incredible to be able to teach my peers about a topic that’s so important, especially for the upcoming election.”
Tyler said that being a campus correspondent has given them a whole new perspective on media literacy.
“It isn’t just what we can do to ensure that we aren’t believing false information that is on our feeds,” they said, “but also it is actively going out of your way to debunk it and spread the word to as many others as you can.”
Barbara Allen is the director of college programming at Poynter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @barbara_allen_.